Biden hosts Kenyan leader in state visit

By Aurélia END - AFP
Kenya Kenyan President William Ruto and his wife, First Lady Rachel Ruto, disembark from their airplane on arrival in Washington.  By SAUL LOEB (AFP)
Kenyan President William Ruto and his wife, First Lady Rachel Ruto, disembark from their airplane on arrival in Washington. By SAUL LOEB (AFP)

Kenyan President William Ruto meets President Joe Biden at the White House on Wednesday for the first state visit by an African leader in 15 years -- and at a time when the US faces geopolitical headwinds across the continent.

Biden will greet his Kenyan counterpart and join him in a meeting with business leaders ahead of Thursday's formal portion of the visit, which will start with an honor guard and culminate in a lavish dinner.

It's the first state visit by an African leader since 2008.

While Africa has often been on the back burner for US diplomacy, the continent is developing into a headache for Washington amid growing Islamist extremism and competition from China and Russia.

But Kenya is a diplomatic lynchpin for the United States.

Biden, who has yet to make good on promises that he will go to Africa as president, sees Ruto's visit as "emblematic of our broader commitment to deepening" relationships across the continent, Press Secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said.

Kenya, especially, "is a key partner on... an array of issues, including security, trade, investment, health and climate."

One of the top issues on the agenda is the imminent arrival of Kenyan police officers at the head of an international force to restore order in chaos-torn Haiti.

A first batch of Kenyan police is expected to make the 12,000-kilometer (7,500-mile) journey to the Haitian capital Port-au-Prince this week, security sources told AFP, despite a fresh court challenge in Nairobi against the deployment.

Ruto has defended the undertaking as a "mission for humanity" in the Western hemisphere's poorest nation, which has suffered from poverty, political instability and natural disasters for decades.

The United States is the largest backer of the force, pledging more than $300 million since the Haiti crisis intensified several years ago, but other countries have been slow to offer support.

The mission -- sending officers into a country currently controlled partly by armed criminal gangs -- is full of risks for the Kenyan personnel and will depend on securing sufficient international funding.

US facing Africa competition

The Kenya relationship is a bright spot for the Biden administration after a series of setbacks in Africa.

Rivals Russia and China are making deep inroads, undermining US diplomatic and security pushes.

Shadowy Russian military entities -- including the infamous Wagner Group and its apparent successor, Africa Corps -- have emerged as key players in a slew of conflicts. China, meanwhile, is using its economic muscle to offer countries economic and infrastructure ties beyond those of the United States.

The latest sign of Washington's weakening position is in Niger, where US troops running regional counter-terrorism operations have been ordered out following a military coup.

The US troops have been told to leave by September 15. Russian military units are already moving in.